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The Photographic Studios of Eastern Europe

The most interesting period of studio photography artistically is considered by many to be between the 1860s and 1914, before the start of World War I in Europe. As studio photography came more and more into its own and became more and more viable commercially, the photographer developed different techniques and ways of displaying their client's image. This wasn't done just for creativity's sake, but also to create new types of product that would increase both business and profit.

In the 1850s there weren't many people trained as professional photographers. The "photographers" then were often scientists, pharmacists or chemists, not to mention others with other occupations that nothing at all to do with photography or art.

In the 1860s more people became specialized in photography. They realized that they might be able to become financially successful if they could learn how to attract potential clients with an attractive and artistic product and also learn how to mass produce these portraits for wider distribution.

At this time, the studio photograph was usually an albumen print mounted and glued onto some sort of cardboard. It was necessary then, as it is today, to create new products, perhaps by improving the design or varying the size of the photograph, as the public would get bored after a time with one product and become more easily attracted to another.

"Carte-de-visite" photographs (often referred to using the abbreviation CdV) first became available in the mid-1850s, though they only became very popular for a time in the 1860s. The CdVs were generally used by studios into the 1870s, and were even used through the first decade of the twentieth century. This type of photograph was similar to the "calling card", and at 2 1/2 by 3 inches, was almost as small. They were not used often as calling cards, however, because the cost for a large number of CdVs would be relative high and not affordable for the average person. These photographic prints were made from albumen and were glued onto thin pieces of cardboard. Thus, for a period of time, the CdV was very popular throughout the world, as they could be made in plenty and relatively cheaply.

At first, CdVs were often used as greeting cards for a specific holiday. Later, family members and friends, previously having no way of exchanging portraits of one another, could now do so by having their photograph taken and having multiple copies made. No matter where a person lived--perhaps someone had already immigrated to another town or country and left their family for good--they could now have photos taken of other members of their family or friends before emigration, to bring along with them as precious mementos. These photos could even be mailed to anyone anywhere in the world where there was mail service. Surely these images would also find their way into the family photo album.

The very early CdVs were a bit wider than the later ones, which would fit conveniently into the newly created CdV photo albums, first produced in the 1860. These CdVs were often exchanged among friends or used as cards of introduction, collected, then put into these albums. Perhaps a person's portrait might have been taken as a sign of of that person's or their family's status or upward mobility, or there might have been an engagement or marriage. Families would be able fill an entire album with photos of their loved ones, from grandparents to their children or cousins. Perhaps they may also have included photos of their residence, or the farm or town in which they lived. The album may also have contained photographs of their visits to family burial plots that showed them next to the gravestone of a loved one.

In a sense, photography was the great equalizer. Before, portraiture was generally available only to the financially well-off. In addition, the earlier photographic product produced by such techniques as the daguerreotype and ambrotype had to be sent with great care in a case protected with glass, and this couldn't easily be transported or mass-produced. Being able to produce the CdV created great opportunities for the photographer with a bit of imagination and entrepreneurship.

At first, these CdVs were made very simply--smaller than a business card with perhaps the name of the studio or subject imprinted on the back of the photo--they were not very fancy. Not long after, the imprint on the back of these photos were made more elaborate as photographers or studios realized that they could both advertise themselves and their products on the back of the photograph, while at the same time creating a more attractive product.

The CdV was first developed by a Parisian photographer named Andre Adolphe Disderi in 1854. He received a patent for his standard formatted CdV card size of 2 1/2 by 4 inches (generally the size of the photo would have the slightly smaller dimensions of 2 1/8 by 3 1/2 inches.) By employing a sliding plate holder and a camera with four lenses, he was able to take eight negatives all at once on one 8 by 10 inch glass plate. This certainly reduced the photographer's production costs--each time the photographer would print a negative, he would be making eight or prints of the same photo at the same time. Disderi's method didn't become popular until five years later in 1859. In the United States during the time of the American Civil War, many soldiers would pose for these CdVs, wanting to leave copies with their families as a last photo of them before they went off to war. This also occurred in the countries of Europe, before young men would go off to war (or when they came home.)

Most of these CdVs, because they were so small in size, could not accommodate very elaborate backgrounds or include more than one, maybe two people. Some had a very smart business mind and realized that if only they could get famous people to pose for these types of photos, they could produce these images in great quantity and sell them throughout the world. It is said that CdVs were made of England's Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and other members of the Royal Family. It is also said that those made of the Royal Family sold over 100,000 copies and compelled others to have CdVs made of themselves. Even Queen Victoria herself became an avid collector of these photographs! Certainly, because of the anticipation of profits, the photography business became quite competitive. Once very simple in design and content, the CdV was now made more elaborate and valuable, and CdVs made with the images of their favorite authors, actors, painters, heroes, etc. motivated many in the new middle-class to become collectors. There were many who also filled their own photo albums with studio portraits of famous people.

It was realized by photographers at some point in time that those who took the photographs of famous people, who owned the rights to them, could also make enormous profits. In England, for example, at one time the average price of a CdV was five shillings; mass-produced they would cost the photographer twenty-five pence for a dozen.

You can see in the photographs below that, because of their small size (you can left-click on any of these thumbnail images to see the fully sized versions), only one person, or perhaps a few people, if posed closely together, could be fit onto these tiny photographs. Usually the CdV was of one person, or perhaps a couple. Also, these CdVs were not generally photos solely of a person's face, but were taken as a full or three-quarter pose. The props used in these photos had to be simple: perhaps a chair, or a balustrade and curtains, or a column. As you will see, within a short amount of time the studio portrait grew in dimension, and much more variety was made possible.


"Moisei Arenberg"
(standing, left)
and friends in
Kishinev (Chisinau),
Bessarabia (Moldova)
cir 1893
Tedesco studio

Unknown Woman
Warszawa, Poland
cir 1890s

W.M. Majorkiewicz studio
"Man in Uniform"
Radom, Poland
cir 1890s

J. Grodzicki studio
Unknown Man
Odessa, Ukraine

V. Korchemny studio

Unknown Couple
Warszawa, Poland
cir 1890s

M. Dutkiewicz studio
"Moisei Arenberg
and Monkey"
Mariupol, Ukraine

I. Rubanchik studio

By the mid 1870s, camera lenses were improved to the point where the photographer could now get closer to the sitter, and the resultant product could be a bust portrait (head to chest) that would fill up much of the photographic area.
Cabinet portraits were first introduced in 1866 in England and subsequently in the United States. Its use quickly spread around the globe. This card was larger than the CdV, measuring 4 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches, the photo itself being 4 x 51/2 inches. Because of the larger dimensions, the available area of the photograph nearly tripled, allowing for greater creativity and more elaborate settings and backgrounds.

By 1890, the popularity of the CdV declined dramatically, and the use of cabinet portraits increased to about ninety-percent of the portrait trade. There were albums produced from 1867 to 1910 that held both CdVs and cabinet photos. These photographs could also be created in such a matter that the backside of the card could be made into a postcard, with room for a message, address and stamp. This was a sure way to encourage the taking of photographs that could be mailed to anywhere in the world.

Many of these cabinet portraits had the name of the photographer or studio imprinted on the bottom of the front of the card, and often on the back. Many cards or "photo mounts" were generic, and just had the words "visit portrait" or "cabinet portrait" imprinted at the bottom. Though these two terms were different, they were basically the same product.

Without any additional evidence, it is often hard to deduce in what year a studio photograph was taken. One might better judge the year by the costume type or the style of dress of the individual, rather than what type or size of studio photograph it was. It is also a problem to date such photographs precisely because a studio might have had some old, blank cards in storage (without photos mounted on them), that they may have possessed and not used for many, many years. So it is perhaps a good idea to have a knowledge of the different styles of clothing, e.g. those worn in the countries of Eastern Europe, if that is where the photograph was taken.

The cabinet portrait was popular until the early twentieth century when Kodak invented the brownie camera, with which people started taking many of their own family photographs at home.


"Blumen Family"
Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine

"Cabinet Portrait"

studio name unknown
"Old Man with a Hat,"
Kishinev (Chisinau),
Bessarabia (Moldova)

"Cabinet Portrait" on front; "Dager" studio
on imprint on back
"Heller Family" (prob.)
Tarnow, Poland
"Cabinet Portrait"

S. Bleiweis studio
"Woman in Babushka"
Leovo, Moldova

N. Deputat studio
"Yankele et al"
Sochaczew, Poland

Edward's studio
"Military Uniform"


Around 1890, more and more studio portraits were created as vignettes, i.e. portraits where the edges of the image were somewhat blurred out, giving it a bit of a fuzzy appearance. Look carefully at the first image below of Elizaveta Epstein, taken in Odessa in the final days of the year 1900. Other examples are shown for your perusal, most all of which were probably taken in the 1890s or at the turn of the twentieth century. You will notice at the bottom of the photo mount (i.e. the piece of cardboard that the actual photo is mounted/glued onto), that there is an imprint, usually the name of the studios which, back then, was often also the name of the photographer. Sometimes the town where the studio was located is imprinted onto the bottom of the card along with the studio name; occasionally even the street address is included too. Sometimes there is no indication of any studio information, even though it is clearly a photo that was taken in a studio, and just the words "cabinet portrait" are imprinted at the bottom of the mount.


"Elizaveta Epstein"
Odessa, Ukraine
30 Dec 1900

Tiraspolski studio

"Isaak Trakhtenberg"
Kishinev (Chisinau), Bessarabia (Moldova)
date unknown

G.V. Shlain studio
"Morris Yarmovsky"
Bialystok, Poland
date unknown

Rembrandt studio

"The Bruckers"
Lubny, Ukraine
date unknown

Photo Studio "Progress":
O.A. Kolodni
Unknown Male
Bialystok, Poland
I. Ya. Soloveichik studio
"The Mother of Nina Finkelstein"
Kovno, Lithuania
date unknown

W. Laterski studio


A cameo portrait is one that employs an oval shape within which a portrait is displayed. Though this style wasn't particularly popular per se, it did achieve some level of success, especially in the United States during the early 1870s. The cameo photographic portrait has some shared characteristics with another type of cameo that was made of hard or precious stone, glass, ceramic or shell that was carved in relief above the surface. Cameos were often worn around the neck on a chain as a piece of jewelry and were considered to be great artistic pieces as far back as the 6th century B.C. in Greece, and in Rome too. Cameos can also be found in belts, brooches, bracelets and diadems (royal crowns).


"Anna Trakhtenberg"
Kishinev (Chisinau),
Bessarabia (Moldova)
cir 1900

"Visit Portrait"

"Wife of Mr. Leaf"
Grodno, Belarus
date unknown

L. Gelgor
Unknown Man
Bialystok, Poland
date unknown

J.Ya. Soloveichik studio
"Abraham Bergazin
Plock, Poland"
date unknown

M. Humiecka i Co.
Unknown Man
Warszawa, Poland
date unknown

Karoli & Pusch
Unknown Woman
Odessa, Ukraine
Jul 1900

Studio name illegible
The Carte-de-visite photograph was most often made of albumen; many of the cabinet photographs are made from albumen too. It is not easy to tell whether one's CdV is made of albumen or not. Generally, the color of an albumen print is sepia, or a warm brown or purplish brown color. An albumen print, when it begins to fade, will generally fade first in the area around the portrait, not the portrait itself. If this happens, it doesn't mean the photo is made with albumen, but is just another criterion for determining whether the photo is made with albumen or not. Lastly, albumen prints, when they do crack, will create a crack pattern that resembles the texture of the skin on the back of your hand.

What is an albumen print and how was it made? Albumen prints were first described in 1850 in France. By 1855, most all paper used for printing photographs were albumen. From 1865 to 1885, the process was the most common of all processes in creating photographs.

Albumen papers were coated with egg white that contained either ammonium chloride or sodium chloride. Then the papers were dipped into silver nitrate, sensitizing them to sunlight. Collodion negatives were generally used to print albumen papers.  next...



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